March 29, 2021
After years of broken promises – and with billions of desperately needed federal aid dollars on the way – New York State has an unprecedented opportunity this year to patch up its broken system of care for kids with mental health problems. But with the State budget due on April 1st, even the best-case proposals now working their way through Albany offer limited hope that Governor Cuomo or the State Legislature will finally make good on their word.
That’s not because anyone disputes that the system is woefully underfunded and inadequate. Long before the coronavirus arrived, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among the state’s adolescents, and the third-leading cause among kids aged 9 to 14. Because mental health care is reimbursed at chronically low rates – both by New York’s Medicaid program and, to an even greater degree, by the private insurance companies that the State is responsible for regulating – there is an extreme shortage of available care. Very sick children often sit on waitlists for months to see a therapist or psychiatrist.
In the past year, as the Covid-19 pandemic ground on, hospital psychiatric units have filled up with young people experiencing mental health emergencies – including many who’ve made serious attempts at suicide. Kids regularly spend days in emergency rooms, waiting for hospital beds to open up.